What Are Your
Thoughts On Deism?
Craig Wilkins

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Craig Wilkins"
Subject: Re: Deism?
Date: October 18, 2001 12:56 AM

After Denis Diderot introduced the Encyclopédie, and after he and Baron d'Holbach almost single-handedly altered the course of the Age of Enlightenment, theism and atheism became very polarized, with the shades of Deism and Natural Religion disappearing over time.

One of the elements that forces Deism to take a back seat was popular Deism's tendency to see the First Cause as benign: the more we learned about nature, though, the more we began to see her as ruthless and completely wasteful. This was not compatible with many people's view of the Deistic First Cause: why bother creating the universe in the first place if it's going to take all this just to pull off a planet full of living organisms.

What I think finished it off, though, was the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species. This book, more than any other, changed the face of atheism forever, because now the Argument from Design has been answered. There's no going back. Darwin has not argued that no gods exist but rather that the Argument from Design is no longer valid. As Richard Dawkins put it:

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An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: "I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn't a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one." I can't help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.
     -- The Blind Watchmaker, p. 6

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By the time Ingersoll had made his rounds, most of the Freethinkers were calling themselves agnostics but talking more like you'd expect an atheist to talk.

Deism, as a philosophical outlook, is still quite popular, though not as a philosophy unto itself. Rather, you will find, for example, Unitarian-Universalists and others who are Deists. I think pantheism is also quite popular today, as at least with pantheism you get the one advantage of potential communion with the deity, whereas Deism is much like atheism. With Deism, one might say: "So what? a First Cause wound up the Universe! What does that mean to me today?" whereas with Atheism, one might say, "So what? the Universe came to existence on its own, requiring zero energy to get started! What does that mean to me today?" This is why I don't spend any energy at all trying to talk theists into giving up their faith: I don't have anything to offer them in return except their lack of faith. If people want to lack faith, it seems to me that this would be quite a simple and straightforward goal to accomplish -- much like quitting smoking: Just don't put that stuff in your body any more!

That's all I really know about Deism, except that there are two Deism web sites listed in our Thomas Paine section. There is also a Deism and Natural Religion section in our FAQ piece, Introduction to Activistic Atheism.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Craig Wilkins"
Subject: Re: Deism?
Date: October 18, 2001 10:30 PM

I don't think the humans could hold a candle to the vast amounts of pain and suffering which Nature inflicts upon her children. See if you can track down a copy of the 1968 film, "Suddenly, Last Summer" by the brilliant playwright Tennessee Williams. Kinda hokey like a melodramatic '60s film, but the point where the (deceased) main character decides (in retrospect, through a speech given by his mother) that his pantheistic god is a cannibal changed my views forever. After this one, I was no longer quite able to assume a benign or even loving deity: this is not an idea I will ever take for granted again. But this assumption is common to almost all expression of Deism that I have encountered (Franklin having poured it on the thickest, I think).

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I think science is on to explaining how we got here, and their current explanations make enough sense to me and coincide with enough of what we know about physics and the world that I actually go along with their current suggestions, rather than simply calling theirs the most realistic explanations (particularly in the realm of the Big Bang, about which I was hesitant not three years ago).

The Big Bang started off, they tell us, with zero energy and total chaotic randomness. That is, no outside energy or ordering was needed to get the ball rolling. The Universe now contains a total of zero energy, balanced between kinetic and potential energy.

So where did all this "matter" come from? Physicist Vic Stenger explained this to me in a recent e-mail:

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E=mc^2 says matter and energy are the same entity. Since E=0, the total matter of the universe is zero. Zero does not have to come from anything.

Now, if by matter your just mean the equivalent of rest energy, then that came from gravitational energy during the expansion in the early universe.

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As to where organic matter came from, I think evolution and natural selection explain this problem just fine.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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